First-Year Seminars are a critical part of the Common Course of Study, a co-requisite for other courses taken by students in their first semester, and a prerequisite for subsequent courses.

Students should understand that in case of a schedule conflict between a First-Year Seminar and a required major degree course, the major course will take precedence, and an alternate seminar option will be assigned.


Available FYS courses (updated 7.24.18)

FYS125 Love & War in Indian Thought

FYS141 Mathematics of Social Justice

FYS162 Music in European Society

FYS195 Russia Today

Please review the descriptions below.


Students who choose to take FYS 077 or FYS 141 will be part of an exciting new housing pilot which brings students from similar First Year Seminars together in a residential setting. If you register for FYS 077 or FYS 141 you will become part of Cadmus Commons and housed in either Conway House or Kamine Hall. This exciting housing configuration will allow the FYS faculty to utilize residential spaces for academic purposes and will encourage collaboration between students outside the traditional classroom environment.

FYS-019. From Magical Mushrooms to Cereal Killers

Fungi have played a critical role in the development of society since ancient times. As food (or a threat to it), as medicinal sources, as recreational items, as religious or philosophical icons, fungi have participated in all aspects of human kind. The seminar class explores all facets of fungi and how they have shaped civilization. By using texts from books, popular articles and scholarly publications, we will attempt to understand the multiple ways in which fungi have affected our lives. –Professor Ospina-Giraldo

FYS-020. Appalachia

The region of the Eastern U.S. known as Appalachia is defined by the geological characteristics of the Appalachian Mountains, but also can be characterized and described on the basis of the distinctive natural, historical, cultural, and economic characteristics of the region. It will be the goal of this course to develop the skills to recognize, understand, and evaluate and communicate the complex interrelationships among those factors that define and describe this region of the U.S. – Professor Husic

FYS-023. Baseball: The One Constant Through All the Years

Why is baseball the “American pastime”? What is it about baseball that fascinates millions around the world? This seminar explores the game by examining the role of statistics on decision making, in-game managerial strategy and economics as well as investigating the historical significance of baseball. Students examine baseball through various writings, films, game attendance, and game simulations in which they manage their own teams. Critical thinking skills are emphasized in the context of baseball. – Professor Nataro

FYS-028. Money: The Root of All Evil?

While the most recent financial crisis has heightened awareness of what can happen when the financial systems runs amok, this crisis was just one of several that plagued the markets at various times within the last two centuries. This course focuses on the financial history of currency and the capital markets through a critical examination of their functioning and impact from their beginnings to the present day. – Professor Bukics

 FYS-036. Trials of the Century

This interdisciplinary seminar will examine the “Trials of the Century” that have captivated the general public’s attention because of the highly controversial issues they raised, the publicity they received, and the decisions that resulted. By examining these great trials, using political, historical and legal academic lenses, we will refine our critical analytical skills and better understand both our legal and political systems, and the resulting changes in law and society. – Professor Murphy 

FYS-039. Music and Gender

Can we hear gender difference in music? Why are there no “great” women composers? What power does a performance wield? To examine these questions, we will explore issues of sexual aesthetics, power, class, cha(lle)nging the roles, and gender as/and performance. In an active classroom environment and discussion based course, you will challenge, lead, explore and develop your own point of view while you discover your own contribution to the arts through valid argument. – Professor Kelly

FYS-040. Geological Disasters: Agents of Chaos

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, hurricanes, floods, and tsunamis are all part of the geological evolution of the earth. Humans are increasingly exposed to the often severe consequences of the violence of nature. This seminar examines these processes from both technical and personal perspectives to understand why they occur and how human activity has interfered with natural processes, perhaps making many parts of the planet more disaster prone. – Professor Malinconico

FYS-041. Crazy in Love: Romantic Love in the Western World 

This seminar explores how even the most intimate and seemingly personal forms of experience are shaped by culture and history. We’ll consider how our ideas about love have evolved over time, from the development of medieval chivalry to the rise of modern psychiatry. Along the way, we’ll assess how scientific accounts of love, as well as our most famous love-stories, mesh with the actual experience of it. – Professor Wadiak

FYS-044. Multiculturalism in the Medieval Mediterranean World

The idea of “multiculturalism” is often associated with modernity. The reality is, however, that multiculturalism was a part of the everyday lives of people living from Cordoba to Naples to Jerusalem to Constantinople in the medieval period. Reading both secondary and primary sources (translated from Arabic, Armenian, French, Greek, Persian, Spanish and Turkish), this course will engage with the different ways in which diversities (ethnic, linguistic, racial and religious) were experienced and understood in the medieval Mediterranean. – Professor Gosgharian 

FYS-048. Baseball (2 Sections)

This seminar will examine baseball from a variety of viewpoints: its history, the importance of statistics, the economics of the sport, and its impact on civil rights. Baseball statistics have undergone a renaissance in the past 20 years, and the “Moneyball” approach to scouting has revolutionized the way players are evaluated. We’ll read and write about baseball, and learn something about its place in American life over the past 100 years. – Professor Gordon

FYS-049. Global Food

Foods are material substances that are deeply linked to human sustenance, to sociability, status and sensibility, as well as the sway of the senses-whether sparking desire or disgust. In this sense food intrinsically crosses borders and boundaries in at least two ways: first, food challenges us to adopt interdisciplinary approaches to material goods, considering them from different perspectives and adopting different lenses. Second, foods have always been mobile across the globe, shifting in form and meaning as they move between different settings; in this sense, by tracing the circulation of foods in time and space, we can explore a world of emergent sociocultural relations, seeing links between spheres of production, transport and consumption. – Professor Bissell

FYS-056. The Worlds in Cookbooks: A Socio-Cultural Approach

Cookbooks are much more than simple collections of recipes. When approached critically, they allow us to analyze patterns of daily life, domestic ideals and practices, and power relations in the societies in which they were produced and consumed. In this seminar we will answer the following questions: 1) What is a cookbook? 2) What can cookbooks tell us (and not tell us) about the societies in which they circulated? 3) What subjects can cookbooks encourage us to(re)consider? In examining these questions, we will explore topics including cookbooks as biographies and domestic advice, as well as genres of cookbooks including ethnic, commercial, and community cookbooks. – Professor Pite

FYS-059. Feed the World 

Food: its effective development and distribution comprise a global, grand challenge. Though many in the world go hungry, others consume modified and artificial foods in unhealthy abundance. We will develop interdisciplinary methods of addressing these complex challenges: combining thoughtful analyses of societal issues with a design process used to develop new technologies. Students will learn about, and work in teams to develop possible solutions that include political, economic, biological, chemical, and engineering approaches. – Professor Stewart-Gambino & Professor Rossmann

FYS-061. Your Immune System: Friend or Foe?

Your immune system is necessary for your survival, but it can also cause many different diseases. This course will shed light upon how your immune system can be both good and bad. We will cover a broad range of topics, including the ways social, economic, and political factors influence our views of vaccines, allergies, autoimmune diseases and bacteria. – Professor Kurt

FYS-064. Global Justice (2 Sections) 

While few people would deny that we have special, and sometimes quite demanding, obligations to help our friends, family, or even our fellow citizens, it is controversial whether we have these same kinds of obligations to complete strangers. The guiding question of this course will be What, if anything, do we owe such people? Three main topics will provide the focus of discussion: international economic inequality, climate change, and war. – Professor Jezzi

FYS-065. The Uses and Abuses of Science in Science Fiction

In their novels, science fiction writers incorporate many ideas from cutting-edge science, some imaginative and insightful, others blatantly at odds with established scientific principles. Students will critically examine applications of science in the novels of Robert L. Forward and Arthur C. Clarke, among others. Readings from the novels will be interspersed with readings from books such as The Physics of Star Trek, by Lawrence Krauss, which explain the relevant science in terms accessible to non-scientists. – Professor Hoffman

FYS-077. The Dog Course

Important Note:

Students who choose to take this course will be part of an exciting new housing pilot which brings students from similar First Year Seminars together in a residential setting. If you register for this course you will become part of Cadmus Commons and housed in either Conway House or Kamine Hall. This exciting housing configuration will allow the FYS faculty to utilize residential spaces for academic purposes and will encourage collaboration between students outside the traditional classroom environment.

“Man’s best friend?” Nature’s most successful parasite?  Employing a range of perspectives–literary, philosophical, archaeological, biological and technological–we will examine specific constructions of the dog at various moments in human history.  We will consider issues of evolution, domestication, the morality and technology of breeding, and the psychological comforts of anthropomorphic representation.  Because field trips and other required activities will involve contact with dogs, this course is not recommended for those who may be afraid of dogs or have health issues that could be made worse by interacting with dogs. – Professor Falbo

FYS 084. The Year 1971-1972 in Music, Art, and Literature

As is often the case after cataclysmic world events, things change: as the war in Vietnam came to a close, we began a revolutionary re-evaluation of what it was to be human. Every aspect of the human condition was questioned. Music, art, and literature of this year provide great insight into the processes by which we questioned our humanity: it will be our task to explore connections between the works of art created in response to the end of the Vietnam War and this re-evaluation of what it means to be a human being. Professor O’Riordan 

FYS-094. Bread

This class is an investigation of bread. Our investigation will lead us to understand bread through the filters of science and technology, politics, art, poetry, and religion; through our own experience making and eating bread (yes, lots of delicious bread!); through the methods of production and distribution of bread in local, national, and global markets. The course will unpack our relationship with bread and the many ways it informs our cultural and political world view. – Professor Gil

FYS 105. Spectacles of Revenge

The popular phrase, “revenge is a dish best served cold,” suggests that revenge is more satisfying when rationally performed rather than irrationally executed. The texts studied in this course either support or challenge this characterization while exploring issues of definition, motive, consequence, justice, and forgiveness. Our purpose is to complicate and enlarge our understanding of “revenge” by studying it from literary, ethical, religious, and psychoanalytical perspectives. – Professor Donahue

FYS-107. Innovation of Warfare

Advances in military technology, their application in weapon systems, and the development of tactics that employ them, are strongly influenced by military traditions, politics. and societal values. Innovation in tactical air power in the Pacific Theater of World War II was of particular importance as it became the determining factor there. – Professor Van Gulick

FYS 109. Understanding Design 

This seminar requires students to develop their observational skills in order to study and evaluate the design of a range of product types. Through observational drawing, journaling, readings, discussion, and focused writing, students will explore and reflect on the elements of good design. – Professor Roth

FYS 114. The Values of Cinema (Recently ADDED)

Learn how to look at works of cinematic art in an informed and reflective way. We will emphasize the importance, to properly understanding and evaluating a movie, of considering all of its cinematic features, including genre, relationship to other works, screenplay, camera work, music, etc., and of becoming informed on whatever is relevant to the content conveyed-all features that a casual viewer might miss. The seminar includes film screenings outside of regular class time. – Professor Giovannelli

FYS-117. Demonstrating Science

Scientific demonstrations are used in lectures, science museums, and television shows to explain scientific principles and inspire wonder about science. How important are such demonstrations to a true understanding of science? Is seeing believing? Is seeing understanding? In this seminar we will explore the science behind some popular demonstrations and consider the ways in which such demonstrations have educated, obfuscated, or inspired their audiences.- Professor Boekelheide

FYS-120. Theatre and Visual Culture

Our first books are picture books, but as we learn to read, the images disappear and our education focuses on reading and writing WORDS. Yet thousands of images surround us each day-in advertising, media, and theater-yet we are rarely taught how to read, analyze, or acknowledge as intellectual property the non-verbal modes of communication. This course will introduce students to techniques for analyzing visual images, focusing on: static images (such as print advertising), “sequential art” (such as graphic novels) and the “languages” of the stage (such as collaborative performance). We will discuss how we receive and respond to images, and how those images function artistically, ethically, and culturally. – Professor Westfall

FYS-122. Psychology and the Media

The media has powerful effects on our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. In turn, psychology can help us understand how we consume and relate to the media. This seminar will introduce students to the wide variety of ways in which media and psychology interact. Selected topics include advertising and persuasion, self-help forums and mobile health, news coverage of psychology-related stories, media depictions of violence, and how psychopathology is (mis)portrayed in various media outlets. – Professor Wenze

FYS-125. Love and War in Indian Thought 

This course focuses on a close reading of one of the classic texts of the Indian tradition, the Bhagavad-gītā, placing it within its contemporary context (that of India, ca., 200 C.E), but also attending to its effects on modern thought. Along with the original text, this course draws on a wealth of Indian and non-Indian materials—from artistic representations to elements of popular culture—in exploring the Gītāin terms of both text and context. – Professor Tull

FYS-131. Order and Justice in the World Community

This seminar takes a comparative approach to explore how different societies deal with internal conflicts resulting from religious, linguistic, racial, or other divisions. By identifying several prominent conflicts and analyzing ways to solve them-through power sharing (e.g. Belgium), federalism (e.g. Canada), minority recognition (e.g. Spain), etc.-we explore the goals of solutions, particularly in terms of justice and order. – Professor Peleg

FYS-132. Pursuits of Happiness

What is happiness? How should we pursue it? Are we misguided in our expectations of happiness?   Conversations about happiness extend beyond the fields of philosophy and religion, as psychologists, economists, and neuroscientists grapple with defining and measuring this often elusive state of being.  We will enter this age-old conversation and examine happiness from a multidisciplinary perspective.  Throughout the course, we will engage with a wide range of texts, exploring both the internal and external conditions that may shape happiness for the individual and society. – Professor Paddock

FYS 136. Learning Science 

Learning is central to our lives as students, professors, and citizens. This seminar will focus on the science of learning and how it is applied by individuals and institutions. Sources drawn from psychology, sociology, and other social sciences will inform our discussion of how you can improve your own academic performance and how institutions of higher education can support those goals. – Professor Talarico 

FYS-138. Theater and Social Justice

For thousands of years, the theatre has both entertained and provided a forum in which social issues can be explored. This seminar will investigate, through readings and performances, how theater provides an immediate and strong voice to debate social and political problems. Students will have opportunities, through writing, discussion and theatrical performance, to explore social and political issues and the ways in which dramatic works can inspire social change. – Professor Lodge

FYS-141. The Mathematics of Social Justice (2 Sections)

Important Note:

Students who choose to take this course will be part of an exciting new housing pilot which brings students from similar First Year Seminars together in a residential setting. If you register for this course you will become part of Cadmus Commons and housed in either Conway House or Kamine Hall. This exciting housing configuration will allow the FYS faculty to utilize residential spaces for academic purposes and will encourage collaboration between students outside the traditional classroom environment.

Alexander Hamilton said, “The first duty of society is justice.” Today there is vociferous argument about the prevalence of justice. To what degree is our society just? Are there practical ways to make it more just? This course applies basic mathematics to controversial issues like elections and income distribution in an attempt to look at them objectively. Using mathematics that everybody is taught, we’ll try to make sense out of conflicting opinions on these issues, so discovering the practical importance of a solid foundation in mathematics for everyone. – Professor Root   

FYS 143. Coffee

This seminar explores the topic of coffee from many angles, from the science behind extracting its flavors to the cultural and economic impacts that it has on the societies that produce it. Learn about the various ways that people around the world are involved in this complex process from crop to cup, and reflect upon the role of this iconic beverage in the context of every aspect of our lives. – Professor Woo

FYS 150. A Plastic World

Plastic: Greatest technological advance of the 20th century or ecological scourge? Plastics, or polymers, are so pervasive in our everyday lives that their use and disposal often are taken for granted. As a result, their environmental impact is scrutinized heavily. In this course, we will discuss the science, history, pop culture, and social impact of this controversial material. Most importantly, we will think critically about the future of plastics in the context of environmental concerns. – Professor Van Horn

FYS 158. Nonviolence: Theory and Practice

This course explores both the theoretical development of nonviolence and the practice of nonviolence as a means for waging and resolving conflict. Using the examples of Mohandas Gandhi and India’s independence movement, the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, the power of music in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, as well as the personal testimonies of individuals and various groups pursuing nonviolent change in the Lehigh Valley, this course explores the principles of nonviolence in action.– Professor Fabian

FYS-160. Understanding Happiness

This seminar will explore happiness from an interdisciplinary perspective. We will discuss how researchers from different fields define happiness conceptually and operationally, how and why levels of happiness vary across people and the globe, how we experience happiness, how levels of happiness can be increased, and why people become happier with age.  We will learn from the works of experts who study happiness in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, economics, and public policy. – Professor Bookwala

FYS-161. The Songwriter’s Voice

In this seminar we will examine songs and songwriters with an eye and ear for how music and lyrics come together to create songs of social relevance.   We will look at song lyrics and music from such songwriters as Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Dar Williams, and Kendrick Lamar, and will learn from visiting artists, to gain a deeper understanding of how music and lyrics can come together to create songs that matter.  Students will also try their own hand at songwriting, individually or collaboratively. -Professor Torres

FYS-162. Music in European Civilization: Six Case Studies

The course does not assume knowledge of music on the students’ part; nor does it require that they master notation or become conversant with musical analysis.  Rather, the course examines developments in European history that have left their traces in the music. It relates music to developments in European culture and explains the distinctive characteristics of the music of a period in relation to those larger developments that underlie its cultural productivity. – Professor Cummings

FYS-165. Stories from the Archive

How do we tell stories about the past? How do we find things to tell stories about? These two questions form the core of this seminar, which introduces students to methods of archival research as well as practices in writing academic and creative narratives based on that research. Readings in history and historical fiction, film screenings, and field trips to historical sites will be among the assignments that build into students’ individual projects. – Professor Phillips

FYS-169. The 1960s and Social Change

The Civil Rights Movement, the Antiwar Movement, the Space Race, and, of course, Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll… Through an examination of written and oral histories, documentary film, and the poetry, music and visual arts of the Sixties, students will explore the underlying causes for change during one of the nation’s most tumultuous decades. In addition to the causes, students will determine for themselves the lasting influences that the 1960s have had on the present day. – Professor Newman     

FYS-179. Leveraging Social Entrepreneurship to Alleviate Poverty and Unfreedoms

Market-based social entrepreneurship as an approach to addressing poverty, unfreedoms and the lack of localized agency among the poor in economic development has seen a rise in prominence. This is often attributed to the failures of national governments, multi-lateral agencies, and conventional philanthropy to respond dynamically to the challenges posed by changing global and technology landscapes. These failures also reflect a reliance on an outmoded development paradigm that is both inattentive and unresponsive to the modern needs of income poor people to be primary owners of their development experiences, a possibility made more realistic because of globalization and technological change. In essence, as first noted by Adam Smith and reported in Amarta Sen, freedom of exchange and transaction is in itself part and parcel of the basic liberties that people have to celebrate, and as Sen himself points out, “the freedom to participate in economic interchange has a basic role in social living.”– Professor Hutchinson

FYS-188. Democracy 2.0: Movements and Markets in the Participation Economy

The tide of declining civic participation seems to be turning. Facebook groups, cellphone polling, and Twitter revolutions have given everyday people a chance to share their opinions at formerly unheard-of-scales. But some worry that “Democracy 2.0” has become big business. Is all of this engagement really about empowerment? This seminar will explore the economic and political potential of participatory technologies from the standpoint of emerging research on the entanglement of social movements and markets. – Professor Lee

FYS-192. Face the Fetus: Perspectives on the Abortion Controversies

Is abortion moral? Should it be legal? Is the availability of abortion required for the exercise of liberty and the achievement of equality? How are debates about these questions mobilized in the political arena? This course will examine philosophical, legal, and political perspectives on the abortion controversy. – Professor Silverstein

FYS-195. Russia Today

“A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” is how Winston Churchill famously described Russia. Decades later, after the Cold War and amidst the resurgence of Russia’s influence on the world stage, this seminar asks the question: what is Russia today? Taking into account conservative and liberal movements, we will study mass media, contemporary literature and cinema, and activism under Putin with an eye to challenging our assumptions about Russian culture, politics, and history. – Professor Ceballos 

FYS-196. Exploring Chinese Culture 

What does it mean to be Chinese? What are some central aspects of Chinese culture? How do the traditional values and beliefs continue to shape contemporary China? Through a combination of lectures, discussions, and cultural events, this seminar will provide the students with a grasp of significant cultural achievements in China and the critical vocabulary that is essential to discuss and analyze Chinese culture and related issues in an intelligent and informed manner. – Professor Luo